From the long-awaited releases of Kanye West and Drake's latest, to the long overdue official retail debuts of Young Thug and Kevin Gates, 2016 has the potential to be a huge year for hip-hop. Here's the albums we're most looking forward to.
What will Kanye West's seventh album, Swish, sound like? There's really no telling. Over the last year, Kanye has released a solo record ("All Day"), a collaboration with Paul McCartney ("Only One"), a collaboration with Paul McCartney and Rihanna ("FourFiveSeconds"), a song with Vic Mensa ("U Mad"), a song with Vic Mensa and Sia ("Wolves"), a "Jumpman" cover ("FACTS") and a remix of a classic Larry Heard house record alongside Ty Dolla $ign and Post Malone ("Fade"). And, according to Pusha T in an interview with Rolling Stone this past December, none of these records are making the oft-delayed LP. Best bet: Follow the new music West will be releasing every Friday.
Drake remains hip-hop's foremost rap artist — critically acclaimed, a populist superstar, reshaping the genre simply when cosigning a trend. Even the revelation that Drake relied upon ghostwriters for recent hits hasn't noticeably slowed his momentum. Drake appeared on two full-length — ahem — "mixtapes" in 2015, What A Time to Be Alive with Future and If You're Reading This It's Too Late. But Views From the 6, Drake has emphasized in interviews, is to be more substantial, a deliberate statement. He told Rolling Stone that part of his return to Serious Business means working mainly with his longtime producer Noah "40" Shebib: "I just wanted to be able to come back to that and have it be important."
Maybe Macklemore and Ryan Lewis recognized they were facing an uphill battle or backlash going into the sequel to the duo's enormously successful debut The Heist. "Downtown," the yet-untitled follow-up LP's lead single, was a long-overdue celebration of hip-hop's early days, corralling hip-hop originators Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz and Melle Mel. The song didn't perform on the Billboard charts for very long, but its reverence was hard to see cynically. Still, it's tough to imagine The Heist's yet-unnamed follow-up will see the same level of success as its prequel, without a "Thrift Shop" lighting the way. Still, a newly-clean-and-sober Macklemore has promised to take on the influence of Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd and the Beatles in an ambitious attempt to break the sophomore slump.
Will 2016 be the year the critically acclaimed MC finally puts his name on a commercially available debut? "That's a good question," Chance said when Rolling Stone asked him last July if such a release was forthcoming. "Let's say I don't know." Chance kept busy in 2015, working with the jazz-rap collective Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment on their wide-ranging and highly regarded release Surf. Chance also premiered two new tracks during high-profile TV slots: He introduced "Angels" on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and performed "Somewhere in Paradise" on Saturday Night Live. It's not clear yet whether those cuts are part of a larger project to surface this year. As Chance says: "I can do whatever I want. I don't have to do a fucking thing!"
It looks like 2016 will be a busy year for Wiz Khalifa. He's announced two mixtapes — Khalifa (scheduled for January 22) and Cabin Fever 3 — and has been dropping tracks like "Burn Slow" with Rae Sremmurd, "Bake Sale" with Travis $cott and "King of Everything." But Rolling Papers 2: The Weed Album, which he revealed on Twitter and features Taylor Gang crew like Berner and Ty Dolla $ign, is the main course. "I'm trying to make this album one of the best. If we get the right people together, we can make that shit," he says. "My whole goal is to make a consistent vibe."
Young Thug's 2015 was messy. His best loved mixtape, The Barter 6, was accompanied by controversy over his beef with Lil Wayne; his other tapes were attempts to capitalize off a mass of stolen material which was leaked at the beginning of the year, washing websites like Audiomack and HotNewHipHop in singles that may or may not have been intended for commercial distribution. Some of the material was great, and some of it was less so, but all of it pointed to an artist who has remade hip-hop's vocabulary in his own image. Thug's official 300 Records debut, Hy!£UN35, has been due for months. With the stopgap Slime Season 3 yet to come, it's hard to say when his official debut will land, but needless to say it's one of the year's most anticipated LPs.
Missy Elliott bounded back into the pop spotlight in 2015, appearing with Katy Perry at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, guesting on a track on Janet Jackson's new album and, most excitingly, collaborating with Pharrell on her gangbusters new single, "WTF (Where They From)." Elliott claims nerves kept her on the sidelines. "I felt like, 'How do I fit in?'" she told i-D in November. "I'm battling. But then I never fit in! The whole time, I've never fit in!" As for a new album, longtime collaborator Timbaland has been saying it's ready to go for more than a year. "It's on her," Tim said back in 2014. "She got the first single, it's just a matter of when she wants to do it. We got the hollow-tip bullet in the gun. We have the game-changer right there."
The dynamic duo of Killer Mike and El-P spent 2015 in victory lap mode, hitting festivals from coast to coast, and releasing Meow the Jewels, a novelty record for charity in which their acclaimed 2014 album Run the Jewels 2 was drenched in cat noises. Of course for the politically charged team, a "victory lap" also entails interviewing presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and recording a record for the Rumble Kings soundtrack. Not much is known about the group's forthcoming album, RTJ3. As El-P suggested in his Colbert performance last September, it may take a while: "We'll get to it once we finish up with all this other shit," El-P added. "So, it should take til 2029."
Until very recently, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole's joint project was filed in the ever-expanding category of mythical albums that would never see the light of day. But on the biggest retail shopping day of the year, the leaders of the new school released "Black Friday," a pair of tracks where Cole freestyled over Lamar's "Alright" and Lamar dropped a verse on Cole's "A Tale of 2 Citiez." The surprise leak revived hopes for the collaboration the two have hinted at since 2013. When asked by MTV about the likelihood of a Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole album, Top Dawg Entertainment president Dave Free said, "Anything's a possibility."
One of 2 Chainz' biggest hits was "Duffle Bag Boy," a 2008 collaboration with Lil Wayne back when he was still known as Tity Boi and rapped as a member of Playaz Circle. Since that time, 2 Chainz became a star in his own right with 2012's Based on a T.R.U. Story and then slinked off the charts with his creatively strong but commercially slight sophomore project. Lil Wayne went from the world's biggest rapper to an artist pushed off the label he'd been raised on. 2 Chainz, though, has had a recent comeback, with his OG Maco-like single "Watch Out" debuting on the Hot 100 last week. The College Park, Georgia rapper will join Lil Wayne, the pride of New Orleans' Hollygrove neighborhood, for Colligrove, a joint project Chainz announced through the Rap Radar podcast.
Iggy Azalea is out to prove that she's not just a one-album wonder. On January 8 she dropped "Azillion," a trap-flavored EDM track from Digital Distortion, the follow-up to 2014's The New Classic. Within days, it clocked over 700,000 SoundCloud streams. She's also dropped teasers for "7Teen," which name-drops Future and "Team," which is slated to be the album's first single. Digital Distortion will be entirely produced by the production collective D.R.U.G.S. (which includes Ty Dolla $ign and DJ Dahi), and she'll address the controversy surrounding her work on tracks like "Iggy Alert" and "Calm Down." Her fiancée, Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young, claims, "It's gonna be the best album of 2016."
With the critical success of December's brooding King Push: Darkest Before the Dawn – The Prelude, everyone's favorite street-rap elder is primed to release his official follow-up to 2013's My Name Is My Name. That said, it's uncertain when he'll have time to put this project together: He's touring behind Darkest Before the Dawn through May and was recently assigned duties as the head of G.O.O.D. Music by Kanye himself.
Lupe Fiasco plans to drop three projects in 2016: Drogas, Skulls and Roy. "Roy will be my last album. LUPend," he said in a January 8 Twitter message. Arriving first will be Drogas, which in its English translation ("DRUGS") is an acronym for Don't Ruin Us God Said. He plans to include "Murals Jr.," a sequel to the highlight from 2015's Tetsuo & Youth, widely acclaimed as his best album in years.
After a rough 2015 that saw YG shot at an L.A. recording studio and squabbling with longtime producer DJ Mustard on social media, the Compton rapper is preparing to release Still Krazy, the follow-up to his excellent 2014 debut My Krazy Life. Produced by Kendrick Lamar associate Terrace Martin, the P-Funk inspired "Twist My Fingaz" has already impacted the rap charts. Other leaks that may make the final tracklist include "I Wanna Benz" with 50 Cent and Nipsey Hussle and "City Mad" with Slim400 and rising Sactown rapper Mozzy. In addition to a few Mustard contributions, hitmakers like London on Da Track, Mike Will Made-It and Metro Boomin chip in on the beats. "That's how it be sometimes when niggas is, like, homies and business," YG told the Fader in a cover story about his relationship with Mustard, adding, "We solid. We A1."
In an era when rappers explode off of viral hits, Kevin Gates has done it the old fashioned way: building up a regional fanbase in his native Baton Rouge and slowly climbing to the top of hip-hop's street-rap scenes nationally. He's had hits over the years, like last year's "I Don't Get Tired," but few have transcended underground status. "Really Really," the lead single from his first official album, Islah, was his highest charting single to date, and is currently at Number 83 on the Hot 100. "2 Phones," the follow-up, is close behind, just 10 spots below.
De La Soul's first full-length album since 2004, And the Anonymous Nobody, is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that netted them over $600,000. "Releasing a record independently has been a real undertaking," wrote the group to their Kickstarter backers as they explained why And the Anonymous Nobody was delayed from its original fall 2015 date. While it's unclear what it will sound like, reported guests include 2 Chainz, David Byrne, Damon Albarn, Little Dragon and Usher. The first single, "Pain," will feature Snoop Dogg. "We are still students," Dave, a.k.a. Trugoy the Dove, said during a group appearance at A3C last October. "Whether it's Young Thug or Kendrick Lamar, we learn from all of them."
It's been nearly six years since Jay Electronica lit up the Internet with a series of stunning mixtapes and two Just Blaze-produced classics, "Exhibit A" and "Exhibit C." His official debut, Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn), has been anticipated for just as long. In 2012, he released a tracklist that included cameos from Kanye West, former paramour Erykah Badu, Jay Z and Puff Daddy. Last October, he threatened to "delete" the album from his files at a CMJ Music Festival show. So what gives us confidence that this unicorn will finally be set free? In November, UK producer Naughty Boy told Vibe that, "I've heard some of his stuff — I just did a song with Emeli Sandé for his album." Just Blaze says, "The album exists." Then again, he added, "Maybe he doesn't need to drop an album." The mystery continues.
Cult favorites Ghostface Killah and DOOM announced they were working together way back in 2006. There have been intermittent developments since. Their first effort, "Angels," appeared on the Natural Selection compilation that year; six years later brought the 12-inch single "Victory Laps." In late 2014, Ghostface Killah said in a Reddit AMA session, "Yes, it's coming out 2015." Obviously that year has come and gone, but in September, the masked duo added "Lively Hood" to Adult Swim's annual singles series. Ghostface recently claimed that an album would drop in February 2016. "I talked to DOOM's people. DOOM is ready now," he said. Keep your fingers crossed.
The breakout success of Action Bronson's Chance the Rapper-assisted "Baby Blue" was the brightest spot in a bumpy 2015. His debut album, Mr. Wonderful, wasn't quite the critical success many were expecting, and talk about his work was soon overshadowed by headlines covering his dismissal of Ghostface Killah's current music on SportsNation (and the beef that ensued). He promised in a Christmas Day tweet that The Human Highlight Reel — a possible reference to basketball player Dominique Wilkins — would be coming "real early next year."
It's impossible to "anticipate" much of anything from unpredictable noise-rap trio Death Grips — their nearly five-year recording career has been marked by break-ups, make-ups, surprise album drops, tour cancellations, one festival no-show and another appearance that was partially Skyped. However after officially reuniting last year, they promised a fifth studio album, Bottomless Pit. The album's announcement came alongside a video of iconic Seventies film star Karen Black reading lines from a script Death Grips drummer Zach Hill had written for a film he was developing; the actress passed away in 2013. What — if anything —this has to do with the album is anyone's guess.